Lamb – Rise of the Machines

Cute Kittens Sell Books!

Rise of the MachinesLamb, Kristen (2013). Rise of the Machines: Human Authors in a Digital World. Ebook: WANA International ISBN: 1938848322.

Lamb is a well-known social media guru for writers and this book offers advice on how to establish and run your internet “author’s platform.” Everyone knows you need a “platform” if you’re going to sell e-books. But what should it look like, and more urgently, what should its content be?  Lamb answers these questions with a light and frothy style, with the kind of corny personal anecdotes and humor you expect to hear in a stuffy hotel meeting room from a self-promotional speaker. Style notwithstanding, the book does contain actual ideas.

The problem with e-books is marketing. The internet is an ocean and your book is a tiny raft that few people will ever see, even if it is lucky enough to stay on the surface. You might as well drop your book manuscript down a well as post it on Amazon and wait for results, because you’ll get about the same sales result.

On the other hand, getting published by a traditional (paper) publisher is virtually impossible, and even if you are so lucky as to land a contract, and if you do not actually get cheated, you’re still virtually on your own for marketing – publishers won’t do much for you, because they don’t have the money to spend on you, and because their marketing efforts are impotent anyway. If the publisher does manage to sell a few copies, you’ll earn only a few pennies per book. Sure you could have an unexpected, runaway best-seller. You could also win the lottery. What are the odds?

This is the dilemma that Lamb sets up starkly in the first section of her book, “Brave New World.” The future of publishing, she says, is not with traditional publishing and marketing, but with e-books and social media marketing. She makes a convincing case that is consistent with my own experience.

Writers trying to use the internet to sell their books usually make two fatal errors. First, they direct most of their efforts to other writers. They are not your target market. Why fill your blog up with book reviews, process notes, and publishing advice. Nobody cares. Other writers might be right for Lamb’s target audience, with this particular book, but that is definitely not the case for fiction. With fiction, a couple of your writing colleagues might grace you with a mercy buy, but that’s about it. You need to reach the general book-buying public, a completely different crowd, if you hope to seriously sell books.

The second fatal error authors make using social media is to inundate potential readers with advertising, self-promotion, and overt requests to buy your book. People hate that. It’s annoying and it should be embarrassing to you, and in any case, it is not effective. If you’re blogging and tweeting and posting self-promotional advertising, you are “this close” to being a common spammer. You’re driving away buyers, not attracting them. Stop it.

What should you be doing instead of making these awful errors? First, address your social media content to “ordinary people,” not other writers. Focus your content on topics that ordinary people care about. And what is that? (Gulp hard.) Ordinary people care about pets, weight loss, food, health, holidays, religion, children, sex, the latest television shows, movie stars, popular music, and pop culture in general. Why do you think it’s called pop culture? Because it’s popular! My stomach churned when I read this. I am connected and engaged with many aspects of my culture, but pop culture is not one of them. I have zero interest and almost zero knowledge of it! I did not even recognize most of the examples Lamb gave. Nevertheless, she makes a convincing argument, and I concluded she was correct. So that leaves me in a pickle, but for other writers, her suggestion might open floodgates of opportunity.

What about the second fatal error, using social media to ask people to buy your book? It’s wrong and it doesn’t work anyway. Instead, you should be using social media to sell yourself. Not your impressive resume, but your actual, down-to-earth self. You should be blogging and tweeting and posting interesting, informative, and humorous content about your family and the pizza, skin care products, cars, and guns that you, personally are so passionate about. You never ask people to buy your book or “like” your page. No, you invite them to correspond with you about your love of cute kittens and Thai food. In that way, you build up a “following” and that’s what it means to have an author platform. Then, when your book is ready, you can say, just incidentally, offhandedly, insouciantly, “By the way, my friends, my new book just came out: Title.” And your 20,000 online “friends” will at least know where to find it. That’s the ticket to success, Lamb says.

All this seems reasonable to me, although Lamb’s “formula” does have that whiff of all those get-rich-quick schemes that say, “You can be rich! Just buy my book!” Certainly Lamb practices what she preaches. Her own platform includes the sprawling WANA website, where WANA stands for “We Are Not Alone,” and her own related blog, facebook page, and twitter accounts (to list just a fraction of her social media links). Not coincidentally, this e-book, Rise of the Machines, ranks under 300,000 on Amazon in sales after only one year. Something is working for her.

The book is not a “how-to” for setting up your Twitter and Pinterest accounts. It gives high-level, practical, yet strategic advice for marketing self-published e-books. It’s an easy read because of its low information content and high redundancy, but despite its lightweight feel, there are valuable marketing lessons for any author who intends to self-publish online. It is almost surely not the last word. Traditional publishers will eventually get the memo and change the way they acquire, produce, and market fiction. Until that happens however, cute kittens and Thai food are your best bets.

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